Low-Income Phone Customers Having Trouble Accessing The Lifeline

After we told you last week about the “Lifeline” program that gives low-income customers a break on their phone bills, we heard from viewers complaining about the program.

Viewers tell us they can’t get hooked up because there’s too much paperwork and too many hoops to jump through.

Viewer Christie Fox sent a letter to the State Attorney General’s office after she saw our story about Lifeline. She receives food stamps, which should make her automatically eligible for the 13-dollar-and-50 cent monthly credit on her phone bill.

But Christie says Verizon wanted proof from her doctor that she was eligible. She says the company said they’d send her an application which she had to send back with a copy of her food stamps id card, and she’d have to reapply each year.

We showed her letter to Jack Shreve with the Attorney General’s office. He’s concerned that people feel they have to jump through hoops to get into the Lifeline program. “We want to make it as easy as possible to sign up and that’s really what we want to do, because we need to accomplish getting as many people and as big a percentage as we can on the program to save them and the state of Florida money.”

Some state officials have told us they suspect the phone companies aren’t trying hard enough to sign people up. Each Lifeline customer costs the companies 3-dollars and 50 cents a month, which might be one reason more people haven’t been enrolled.

Verizon denies it’s a money thing. A Verizon spokesman says it and the other phone companies have been holding publicity events all over the state to let people know about Lifeline and get them hooked up.

Verizon is now looking into Christie Fox’s concerns. In the meantime, millions of dollars of phone credits people like her have a right to are going unused.

The phone companies tell us they have greatly simplified participation in Lifeline these days. You don’t have to prove eligibility when you apply for Lifeline – just once a year when you renew.

Sprint customers can call 1-888- 723-8010. BellSouth customers can call 1-888-757-6500. You must be enrolled in one of several public assistance programs or fall within certain income guidelines to qualify.